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As we get older, staying active can feel like it comes with a price—muscle and joint pain. But there are low-impact cardio alternatives that can keep you feeling fit and flexible without aggravating sensitive knees or hips!
This list of nine low-impact cardio exercises exemplifies best practices for staying fit.
Benefits of Cardio
You may have given up on running (or never enjoyed it in the first place), but why not replace it with static stretching or gentle weight lifting?
Aerobic exercise, also called cardio, is beneficial to health in multiple ways. One of the biggest, of course, is the benefit to your heart! Cardio can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, which reduces your risk of heart disease.
In one 2017 study, researchers observed the effect of cardio activity on mice and found that aerobic exercise biologically changed the cells of the animals’ hearts. Cardio made their heart cells biologically more like heart cells found in younger mice.
Beyond your heart, cardio also benefits your brain and can help improve memory and thinking processes.
Low-Impact Cardio Exercises
Perhaps most well known for their use in physical therapy, resistance bands can make a great exercise tool for a low-impact workout. Lateral walks while wearing the band around your thighs, glute bridges, and clams work your core, glutes, and leg muscles. Movements like the biceps curl and the flye work your back, arms, and chest. Combine sets of these exercises to really get your heart pumping!
At the gym or on your home stationary bicycle, set the resistance to be challenging but not difficult and put on your favorite show or podcast, or open a good book. In 45 minutes, you could burn up to 600 calories! And you can do that while being gentle on hips and knees.
There are many different styles of yoga, but cardio yoga can give you all the benefits of your classic stretchy variety plus aerobic exercise. The sequences of poses move faster and help you build muscle as well as increase your cardiovascular fitness and all you need is a yoga mat.
Similar to yoga, pilates range in intensity and style. Search for a pilates class with a faster rhythm and pace like this 30-minute cardio pilates workout for beginners.
Before you dismiss walking as a form of exercise, consider that it provides similar health benefits as running—and it’s far easier on your joints especially if you decide to use some walking sticks. Brisk walking is considered a moderate-intensity exercise, and the American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.
Calisthenics use your body weight as a strength training tool. While intense versions of calisthenics (like pull ups and handstand pushups) may be out of reach, try these beginner-friendly calisthenics to get your blood moving and improve cardiovascular fitness.
Water is the ultimate environment for low-impact exercise, and it doesn’t have to be synchronized swimming. Other forms of water aerobics include water yoga, water Zumba, resistance training, and even water jogging.
An intense workout on the elliptical machine will help improve stamina and increase your aerobic capacity while going easy on joints or injuries. It’s easier on the legs than running and incorporates the upper body as well.
Dumbbell exercises build muscle strength and can also help improve balance and bone density. When done in a series, dumbbell exercises turn into a solid cardio workout! This 20-minute video from Senior Fitness with Meredith is an excellent example of a low-impact workout routine that will help you build strength at the same time you’re working your heart and lungs.